Rugby League

Canberra Raiders have golden chance to race out of blocks: Greg Alexander

Canberra traditionally begins campaigns slower than a wet week but Greg Alexander believes the Raiders could start the season with a wet sail thanks to a seemingly favourable early draw.

The Penrith great is adamant his old side has improved and will be a "toughie" for the Raiders to start at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.

Deputy: Greg Alexander believes Will Smith, left, will keep the No.1 jersey for Penrith.
Deputy: Greg Alexander believes Will Smith, left, will keep the No.1 jersey for Penrith. Photo: Stefan Postles

But the Panthers will be without fullback talisman Matt Moylan (back) and with three homes games in their first four, the Raiders have a golden chance to have a winning record after four matches for the first time since 2005.

After Penrith, the Raiders host a Sydney Roosters team which has lost James Maloney (Sharks) and Roger Tuivasa-Scheck (Warriors), and will also be without injured representative forwards Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

A trip to last year's wooden spooner Newcastle awaits in round three before a visit by the struggling Gold Coast Titans in round four.

"Ricky [Stuart, coach] would be thinking you won't get a better chance than this to have a lot of wins under your belt the first few weeks of the season," Alexander said.

"I think most people would have the Knights and Titans down there, both clubs have either lost players or not recruited that many.

"There's every reason why they can make a really good start with the draw they've been given over the first month.

"But it's a toughie first up. Even without Moylan, Penrith look a better side than last year."

A former half himself, Alexander believes Canberra's new No.7 Aidan Sezer could provide the game management and cool head they were lacking in several close losses last year, which cost it a finals berth.

"I think Sezer's a good buy, he'll give Ricky what he's been looking for the last couple of years," Alexander said.

"He's got a great kicking game and there's no doubt that in terms of shutting sides down or protecting a lead, it might be only one kick a game which is the difference.

"When it gets down to the end of a game and the scores are tight, you only need one error or one bad kick [to lose] and there's no doubt some of those tight losses the Raiders had last year might be different with Aidan Sezer.

"I think the Raiders are in for a good year, there's no doubt they're a better side on paper with their purchases."

Austin and Sezer haven't played any football together before round one after Canberra decided to leave Austin out of last week's trial with the Knights in Orange.

Alexander doesn't feel it will have a major bearing on whether or not the Raiders start the year strong.

"I don't think it's a huge obstacle because Blake Austin is not your traditional five eighth, he's a runner of the footy," he said.

"We'll see how Ricky uses them and how much they link but it's not so much them jelling, because I think Sezer will take control and will touch the ball more than Austin.

"It's more about Sezer's combinations with the back rowers and the edge players more than combining with his five-eighth."

Moylan's absence for up to the first month of the season is a huge blow, but Alexander insists the Panthers are now better equipped to deal with the NSW Origin hopeful's absence.

The 24-year-old hasn't played since round 12 and Alexander anointed Will Smith as the man to deputise in the No.1 jersey.

Smith and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak are the options for new Panthers coach Anthony Griffin, but Alexander feels Smith did enough at fullback late last year to retain the spot.

"He was so good in the back end of the season and Dallin will play wing when Moylan comes back in a few weeks," Alexander said.

"If I was picking the side I'd give Will Smith another crack, I reckon he was Penrith's best in the last month and a bit of the comp [last year]."

SATURDAY

NRL round one: Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers at Canberra Stadium, 3pm

Tickets available from Ticketek

TV: Live on Fox Sports 1

RAIDERS FIRST MONTH

  • Three of first four games at home for first time since 2011
  • Round one v Penrith at home: missing best player in captain and fullback Matt Moylan
  • Round two v Roosters at home: missing representative forwards Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (injury) and likely Mitchell Pearce (suspension). NSW Origin players James Maloney (Cronulla) and Roger Tuivasa-Scheck (Warriors) have left.
  • Round three v Newcastle away: last year's wooden spooners
  • Round four v Gold Coast at home: finished 14th last year and have lost key players Nate Myles (Manly), Aidan Sezer (Canberra), James Roberts (Brisbane) and Kane Elgey (injury)

SLOW OUT OF BLOCKS

2015

1-3 record: Bt Cronulla 24-20 (a), lost to Warriors 18-6 (h), lost to St George Illawarra 22-20 (h), lost to Sydney Roosters 34-6 (a)

2014

2-2 record: Lost to North Qld 28-22 (a), beat Newcastle 26-20 (a), lost to Gold Coast 24-12 (h), beat South Sydney 30-18 (a)

2013

1-3 record: Lost to Penrith 32-10 (a), lost to Gold Coast 36-0 (a), beat St George Illawarra 30-17 (h), lost to Newcastle 28-12 (a).

2012

2-2 record: Lost to Melbourne 24-19 (h), beat Gold Coast 24-12 (a), lost to Sydney Roosters 14-8 (a), beat Wests Tigers 30-16 (a)

2011

1-3 record: Beat Cronulla 40-12 (h), lost to Brisbane 20-4 (h), lost to Wests Tigers 34-24 (a), lost to Gold Coast 22-23 (h)

2010

1-3 record: Lost to Penrith 34-16 (h), beat Brisbane 22-14 (h), lost to Gold Coast 24-4 (a), Lost to Wests Tigers 35-22 (h)

2009

1-3 record: Lost to Wests Tigers 34-26 (a), lost to Sydney Roosters 28-4 (a), lost to Parramatta 18-16 (a), beat North Qld 23-18 (h)

2008

2-2 record: lost to Newcastle 30-14 (a), beat Penrith 20-16 (a), beat St George Illawarra 21-14 (h), lost to Gold Coast Titans 32-12 (a)

2007

1-3 record: lost to Manly 32-6 (a), lost to Melbourne 32-16 (h), beat Newcastle 48-18 (h), loss to Parramatta 38-6 (a)

2006

2-2 record: beat Manly 27-14 (a), lost to Newcastle 70-32 (h), lost to Sydney Roosters 56-20 (a), beat Penrith 21-20 (h)

2005

4-0 record: beat Newcastle 39-14 (h), beat South Sydney 25-18 (a), beat St George Illawarra 42-22 (h), beat Sydney Roosters 24-16 (h)